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First grader’s backpack searched at Virginia school, then teacher shot dead

Abigail Zwerner, 25, was shot in the chest last week and is reportedly in stable condition.

RICHMOND, Virginia. School officials in Virginia, where a first grader shot and killed his teacher last week, learned that the child may have had a gun before the shooting, but he did not find the 9mm pistol he brought to school despite searching his bag. said the superintendent of the school system.

Police said on Friday they were not told about the tip before the shooting took place. Kelly King, a spokesman for the Newport News Police Department, told The Associated Press that some time after the shooting, police learned during an investigation that a school worker had been alerted to the possible presence of weapons at Richneck Elementary School prior to the Jan. 6 shooting.

“The Newport News Police Department was not notified of this information prior to the incident,” King wrote in an email.

The student’s backpack was searched after school officials received a tip, but the gun was not found prior to the shooting, Michelle Price, a Newport News School District spokeswoman, said.

She declined to comment on the police statement. She said that typically when school officials receive a tip about potential weapons or other contraband in schools, if the tip includes specific information about a particular student or a particular class, “that’s where the search begins.”

“I can’t comment on whether other searches could have taken place, other than the fact that the superintendent shared that a student’s backpack was searched, but nothing was found at the time,” Price told The Associated Press.

Price confirmed that Superintendent George Parker told parents during an online meeting Thursday night that at least one school administrator was notified that the boy may have had a gun before the 6-year-old boy shot the teacher. Parker’s comments were first reported by WAVY-TV, which gained access to a parent meeting.

Police Chief Steve Drew said earlier that on the day of the shooting, the boy brought the gun to school in his backpack.

Price said she was not told where school authorities thought the gun was when the boy’s backpack was searched.

“It is likely that this is definitely part of our internal investigation and the police investigation, but nothing has been made public about it,” Price said.

She declined to comment when asked who reported the boy might have a weapon and whether school officials should take additional steps after the weapon was not found in his backpack.

The teacher, 25-year-old Abigail Zwerner, was shot in the chest with injuries that were initially thought to be life-threatening. However, her condition has improved and she is in stable condition at the hospital.

Earlier Thursday, Newport News School Board Chair Lisa Surles-Low said the district would install metal detectors in all schools, starting with Richneck.

The shooting occurred on January 6 while Zwerner was teaching her class. Authorities said there was no warning and no struggle before the 6-year-old boy pointed a gun at Zwerner.

Drew called the shooting deliberate. The judge will decide what to do next with a child who is being held in a medical facility under an emergency custody order.

Drew said the child used his mother’s gun, which was legally purchased. It is unclear how he gained access to the weapon. Virginia law makes it illegal to leave a loaded gun in an area accessible to children under the age of 14.

The shooting sparked outrage across the country about how such a small child could have accessed a gun and brought it to school. The news about the unsuccessful search for a backpack also raised questions.

Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers, said that while details of how the search was conducted are still unknown, the situation highlights the need for a very thorough search and that it would be desirable for a law enforcement officer to do so.

“I want to know how thoroughly someone conducted this search,” he said. “Be aware that there are very small firearms, so you really need to search every nook and cranny if you really believe there are firearms.”

Virginia Senate Democrats held a press conference Friday to unveil a list of gun safety laws they hope to pass this year, including a bill that would require anyone with a gun in a home where a minor is present to keep a gun unloaded and in a lockable container or cabinet, and store all ammunition in a separate, lockable container.

“Gun violence is the number one cause of death for children in Virginia and our nation, and safely storing firearms will help prevent gun deaths and injuries,” said Sen. Jennifer Boysko, the bill’s top backer. “My bill will not only prevent tragedies, as we saw in Newport News, but also prevent other tragedies, including gun accidents, youth suicides and school shootings.”

Also on Friday, more than 200 volunteers from Action on Moms and Actions on Student Demand attended the rally and met with Virginia lawmakers to push for new gun safety measures. Members of the groups — both part of the grassroots network Everytown for Gun Safety — said their priorities include Boisco’s proposed safe storage bill and bills that would strengthen the state’s red flag law and increase funding for gun violence prevention and intervention programs.

Philip Van Cleve, a gun rights advocate and president of the Virginia Citizens’ Defense League, said the Boysco Gun Possession Law would prevent gun owners from protecting themselves or others in a timely manner during an emergency because they would be required to open one container to obtain a gun. then open another container to get ammo, then load the gun.

“If the back door is kicked in… it’s ridiculous. It’s pointless and just doesn’t work,” he said.

“This is not for those cases when I am on the verge of life or death, and it all depends on whether I can get this gun from the safe,” he said.

Associated Press contributors Matthew Barakat of Falls Church, Virginia, and Michael Kunzelman of Silver Spring, Maryland, contributed to this report.

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